Monday, May 3, 2010

Is There Balance In Fair?

Slate's "Escape From The Echo Chamber" attempts to measure online reading habits according to political affiliation.  Some of the more interesting insights from the comments section:

Charles Sarau:
THis is a major problem with U.S. politics in general . There is no home for socially liberal and fiscally conservative voters. Nor is there a home for socilly conservative and fiscally liberal voters ( although I am not sure that they exist ?) . Sometimes in spite of it's very visible flaws I wonder if the European Parliamentary form of governemnt might not be more representative then the U.S. model. Certainly when it comes to the U.S. Senate , which is a travesty of misrepresentation , the European system is superior.

I agree with other commenters here. Fox News and Drudge only shows up in my history because I've clicked on links from very liberal sites to negative spin stories on those conservative sites.

There's another bias issue that isn't being measured here, which is that even if people visit sites with opposing views, they tend to disbelieve those sites. You might read an op-ed that agrees with you, and an op-ed that opposes, but you aren't likely to see them both as balanced and accurate. You will likely assume the first is accurate and well thought out, and the second is a biased screed. Sad but true 

John Adam Zirinsky: I'm not sure I trust the comScore data here. Non-probability-based web analytics aren't exactly an established source of reliable attitudinal data. And there's no midpoint on this scale; everyone is boxed into either liberal or conservative. Why not use the standard 5 point Likert scale here?
Plus, some of this data just doesn't pass the smell test. Is the readership of the New Yorker really more conservative than that of the Economist? I know this is limited to the online editions--not print--but that still seems like a weird result. Another example: is Rolling Stone's readership really more conservative than MSNBC's?

Anyway, this is a neat idea, but I'm not sure I trust the methodology used.

Adam Bond:
Well, from what I can understand from the discussion so far... the greatest problem plauging the slate numbers is the lack of accounting for visit frequency. As a fellow poster pointed out, these things can't be tracked by Java Script. I'll take his word for it. While it's clearly lacking empirical credibility, it is still a nifty game of averages beying played out, with a wholly arbitrary number as a result.

My biggest concern with this is that it simply introduces far too many variables that can't be accounted for. Let's put aside the fact that we can't count frequency or whether or not someone gives a damn about what they read from a given news website. How were the websites chosen? I frequently surf, etc. and other European websites which give me a much better handle on what's happening globally. So, why is BBC News counted, but not the british BBC homepage? (It didn't register it for me at least). Why is Glenn Beck's website accounted for as a news-hub, but the Daily Show isn't?

Furthermore, as a Canadian, it's evident to me that something else is lacking (I was blown away by the reported conservative readership on Globe and Mail). Namely, there are no ways to account for differences in political spectrums. Yes, yes.... I know the response will be something like "But lol, they said that in the article, fool." Well, if that's the case... then we should look at these numbers and say "cool" and continue to follow our intuitions and not take heed of these numbers when it comes to gaining a balanced (read: not Fox-styled) perspective on current events.

At the very least, this article provides a decent reference of North American news websites considered to be mainstream. It's not much beyond that and it's interesting gimmick.